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University Accused of Illegal Fetal Research

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — An anti-abortion group has accused the University of Minnesota of illegally using fetal remains for medical research.

In its petition filed in Hennepin County District Court, the St. Paul-based Pro-Life Action Ministries (PLAM) says "the university is engaged in a continuous unauthorized usurpation of authority," by conducting transplantation research using human fetal tissue.

Under state law, laboratory tests on such remains are allowed only if they involve the health of the mother or her future offspring, are used to determine the parentage of the fetus or are part of a criminal investigation.

"None of these exceptions in Minnesota Statute apply to the University of Minnesota's administrative policy," the 39-page Oct. 19 petition claims.

The university's alleged use of fetal tissue surfaced last summer amidst the "undercover videos released about Planned Parenthood selling body parts," PLAM's executive director Brian Gibson said in an interview.

Some of the videos mentioned Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR), a "procurement company selling body parts" out of California, Gibson said.

A Freedom of Information Act request from the local media revealed that the university was obtaining various organs, as well as fetal remains, from ABR.

While the university's policy states that it does not use tissue obtained from aborted fetuses, university officials admitted they did not know where the fetuses they obtain through ABR originated.

According to the petition, university president Eric Kaler responded to a letter stating that "the university does not know all of the various sources of fetal tissue procured by ABR. However, ABR has informed the university that it procures tissue from induced abortions at clinics throughout the country."

The university "came under fire publicly" for its research policies, Gibson said, but "none of the authorities charged with holding people accountable were doing so."

This prompted PLAM to file its petition.

The university has since changed its policy so that any fetal tissue for research is obtained from outside the state. It also claims its research can be used to treat serious diseases, disorders and injuries.

"That somehow makes it legal," Gibson said.

The petition adds that "if the legislature sought to allow greater breadth of testing involving human fetal tissue, it would have stated such."

"Using the remains of aborted babies is problematic on many levels," Gibson added. He argued that, once they are allowed to be used for research, "we're commodifying those remains" and creating a market for them.

Civilization has long recognized that "we don't desecrate the remains of humans," according to Gibson, and the law states that such remains must be treated with dignity.

The university claimed in a statement that "the Board and administration obtained a thorough legal analysis of whether the university can conduct research utilizing fetal tissue in compliance with state and federal law. This included a review from independent, external counsel affirming that it does. The university remains committed to ensuring our faculty have the ability to conduct legal research in a legal and ethical manner to advance human understanding and create new knowledge. We also remain committed to doing so consistent with all applicable law."

But the petition argues that, despite the university's intentions, it "has forsaken the explicit mandate of an unambiguous statute."

"We're not looking for any fines or criminal charges," Gibson said, adding that PLAM just wants the school to follow the law.

The petition asks the court to issue a writ requiring the university to show how it has the authority to use fetal tissue in its research.

PLAM is represented by Erick Kaardal of Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson in Minneapolis.

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